It's early and the races for newly turned 3-year-olds are mostly still far short of a mile and a quarter but -- what the heck -- spring is just around the corner and it's time to think Kentucky Derby.
With Breeders' Cup Juvenile champ Midshipman prepping in Dubai, the field is typically wide open at this point at the tracks that traditionally serve as the major Triple Crown proving grounds.
Santa Anita, Fair Grounds, Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park already are in operation and Oaklawn Park in Arkansas kicks off in less than two weeks. By the time spring training baseball games get going, we'll be thinking about selections for the Florida, Louisiana and Santa Anita derbies and the Wood Memorial.
Gulfstream's prep series kicked off on Opening Day on Saturday, as Notonthesamepage led most of the way to an 8 1/4-lengths upset victory. You Luckie Mann was second, Bee Cee Cee third and the favorite, Silent Valor, finished fourth.
Notonthesamepage, a Kentucky-bred colt by Catienus, hadn't run since finishing last of 11 in the Breeders' Futurity at Keenland three months ago.
"He had issues with his throat and bleeding last summer, which explains his last couple of races, but it looks like that's past him now," said winning trainer Wesley Ward. "The way he ran today it looks like he could have gone on longer." He said he hopes to give Notonthesamepage at least a month before his next race but does hope to stretch him out to longer distances.
At Aqueduct in New York, Haynesfield took command in the stretch in Saturday's $65,000 Count Fleet Stakes and justified his odds-on favorite status with a 3 1/2-lengths win. Jess Not Jesse was second and Mike From Queens finished third. Haynesfield, a New York-bred colt by Speightstown, ran 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:44.65. Ramon Dominguez rode the Steve Asmussen-trained colt.
The victory was the third straight for Haynesfield and keeps hopes alive for his connections.
"The race was very nice. I mean, he won," said Asmussen assistant Toby Sheets, "It wasn't visually as impressive as last time and the competition was a little bit different, but he won."
In his last outing, Haynesfield captured the Damon Runyon against fellow New York-breds, running the same distance more than two seconds faster.
At Turfway Park in Kentucky, Loch Dubh came from slightly off the pace to upset the $50,000 Turfway Prevue Stakes, the first step toward the March 21 Lane's End Stakes. Rallying down the lane, the $15,000 Churchill Downs claim won by 2 lengths over Back to Gold. The odds-on favorite, Rudy Flyer, led early but faded to finish third. Loch Dubh, a Kentucky-bred son of Friends Lake, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.72 with Victor Lebron up.
Loch Dubh is unlikely to move along on the Lane's End trail. "I think he wants to go short," said winning trainer Jeff Talley. "They had been running him long, and the day we took him, they ran him short and he won by seven. I think that's the key to him."
Justwhistledixie pressed the pace in Sunday's $65,000 Ruthless Stakes at Aqueduct, went by in the stretch and easily drew off to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Gnome's Delight ran well late to take second, 3/4 length better than Ocarson. Justwhistledixie, a Kentucky-bred filly by Dixie Union, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.81 with Rajiv Maragh up for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "It was a great ride by Rajiv today," said assistant trainer Artie Magnusson. "We're certainly happy to have her in the stable. Our goal is the Cicada Stakes in March. There might be a chance she'll run back once more, but the goal is the Cicada." The Cicada is a 6-furlong, Grade III event March 14.
Sunday's $100,000 Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park was exciting but the winner isn't likely to see the Kentucky Oaks preps. Gemswick Park, a Kentucky-bred Speightstown filly, pressed the pace set by Elusive Heat, then put a nose in front at the wire. Frolic's Dream was third. Gemswick Park, with John Velazquez up for trainer Thomas Albertrani, got the 6 furlongs in 1:09.77. But Albertrani said sprinting is her game. "We tried to stretch her speed out a little farther than she probably really wants to go in the Frizette and Tempted (third and second, respectively, going 1 mile)," the conditioner said. "I'm not sure what's next. I think I'd rather run her 5 furlongs than 7, but we'll see. I do think she'll handle any surface though, including turf."
In other weekend racing:
Tizfiz led all the way in Sunday's $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap for fillies and mares, then just held on at the end to win by a nose over Marzelline. Solar Miss was third and the favorite, Valbenny, finished fourth with a belated bid. Tizfiz, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Tiznow out of the Go For Gin mare Gin Running, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.62. Agapito Delgadillo rode for trainer Rafael DeLeon, who claimed the winner two races back for $50,000. She earned $90,000 for Sunday's win. "Rafael told me to go to the front and 'Go as slow as you can,' and that's what happened," Delgadillo said. "At the top of the stretch, it felt like I had a lot of horse but I didn't know about the closers. I knew they'd be coming and I was hoping my filly would keep going."
Jibboom pressed the pace early in Saturday's $100,000 Monrovia Handicap for fillies and mares, came out from behind close quarters at midstretch and was along in time to win by 1/2 length over Christiana's Heat. Lethal Heat finished third. Jibboom, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Mizzen Mast, got the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:13.21. Garrett Gomez rode for trainer Bobby Frankel. Frankel assistant Humberto Ascanio said he was worried about the traffic problems in the stretch. "It looked like she might be beat," he said. "I don't know how this guy (Gomez) found his way through. She was much the best, I guess. She's a nice filly." Gomez said he wanted to shake free on the turn but couldn't when a potential hole closed. "It took me a while," he said. "But I had to ease my way out slowly."
In Summation came from last of four starters to win the $100,000 El Conejo Handicap on New Year's Day by 1 length over Machismo. Black Seventeen was third and Johnny Eves faded to last after contesting the pace. In Summation, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred son of Put It Back, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:02.58 under Rafael Bejarano. Christophe Clement is the winning trainer.
Lovely Isle came three-wide into the stretch in Wednesday's $70,000 Kalookan Queen Handicap for fillies and mares, got the lead at the top of the lane and came home well to win by 1 1/4 lengths over High Resolve. Baroness Thatcher was third. Lovely Isle, a 3-year-old, Florida-bred filly by Double Honor, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:15.31. Victor Espinoza had the mount for trainer Bobby Frankel.
Lucky J. H. stalked the pace in Monday's $70,000 Impressive Luck Handicap down the hillside turf course, got the lead after crossing the main track and went on to win by 1/2 length over a late-running Majestic Diamond. Hewitts, the early leader, held on for third. Lucky J.H., a 6-year-old, California-bred son of Cee's Tizzy, finished the 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:13.55 under Victor Espinoza.
Delightful Kiss could see all 13 rivals through the first half of Saturday's $100,000 Hal's Hope Handicap, came around the pack on the turn and ran by the leaders to win by 3 lengths. Bullsbay was second and Famous Patriot third. The favorite, Bribon, tired to finish 10th. Delightful Kiss, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Kissin Kris, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.13. Calvin Borel rode for trainer Pete Anderson. In his last previous outing, Delightful Kiss was second to Einstein in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November. He was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Marathon before that. "He was extra sharp today, but I was worried that he was too far back down the backstretch," Anderson said. He said the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 24 is the next scheduled stop for Delightful Kiss.
Leestown Gift caught pace-setting Lee City Slew at mid-stretch in Wednesday's $108,185 Louisiana Futurity for state-breds and held on to win by a neck over Silent Pipe. Lee City Slew held on for third. Leestown Gift, a Leestown gelding, trained by Wesley Hawley, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11.39 over a fast track. Jamie Theriot had the mount.
In the $108,185 filly division of the Futurity, Morning Memory got off to an early lead and wasn't caught, winning by 2 3/4 lengths. Wanna Cuddle was second with Catch the Buss third. Morning Memory is a chestnut daughter of Menifee. Donnie Meche rode for trainer Mike Burgess.
Golden Gate Fields
Backbackbackgone, in addition to reminding us that baseball season isn't too far off, got off a trap on the rail at the top of the lane and went on to win Thursday's $75,000 Golden Bear Stakes for newly turned 3-year-olds by 1 length. Free Action was third and the pace-setter, Revoluta, settled for third. Backbackbackgone, a Florida-bred colt by Put It Back, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:11.01 under Russell Baze. Peter Miller trains.
Zada Belle stalked the pace in Thursday's $65,000 Interborough Handicap for fillies and mares, got to the lead midway around the turn and drew off handily to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Intentional Fever finished second and Blowing Kisses was third. Zada Belle, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred mare by Indian Charlie, ran 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:13.94 with Ramon Dominguez in the irons.
Delosvientos, the odds-on favorite, won as he pleased in Wednesday's $75,000 Gallant Fox Handicap, leading all the way and finishing 11 1/4 lengths to the good of Lord Kipling. Canela finished third. Delosvientos, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Siphon gelding, ran the 1 5/8 miles on the fast inner track in 2:49.33 with Eddie Castro riding.
Retap rallied from near the back of the field to win Tuesday's $100,000 Riley Allison Futurity by 1/2 length over longshot pace-setter All Maxed Out. Relentless Missile finished third. Retap, a Tapit colt, owned Winchell Thoroughbreds and trained by Steve Asmsussen, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.67. Luis Contreras had the mount.
In Sunday's $100,000 Albert Dominguez Memorial Handicap for New Mexico-breds, Some Ghost came from well back in a field of 12 to take the lead entering the stretch and drew clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Captain Cooper came seven-wide into the stretch and was up to take second by 1 1/4 lengths over pace-setter Z Z Dome. Some Ghost, an 8-year-old Ghostly Moves gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.56 under Ken Tohill.
Tampa Bay Downs
Dream Rush drew out to a 2 1/2-lengths lead midway down the stretch in Saturday's $65,000 Minaret Stakes for fillies and mares, then just lasted to win by a neck over Rising Fever. Star Operator took third. Dream Rush, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Wild Rush, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.73 for jockey Daniel Centeno.
Star Guitar saved ground early in Saturday's $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace Stakes for Louisiana-breds, came out for room in the stretch and wore down pace-setting Classy Deelites in the final furlong to win by 1 length. Hallway was third, only a nose farther back. Star Guitar, a 4-year-old Quiet American colt, got the 1 mile on a wet-fast track in 1:37.42 with Corey Lanerie up.
Lord Snowden rallied from last of seven to win Saturday's $50,000 Native Dancer Stakes by 3/4 length over Sharps Island. Early leader P V Lightening held third. Lord Snowden, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Seeking the Gold gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.11. Jeremy Rose had the mount for trainer Anthony Dutrow.
Royale Michele stalked the pace in Tuesday's $75,000 New Year's Eve Stakes for fillies and mares, then went by and on to win by 3 lengths over the favorite, A Rose for You. Afleet Angel finished third. Royale Michele, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Elusive Quality, ran 6 furlongs on a "good" track in 1:10.77 with Deshawn Parker riding.
Northern Soldier stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Swift Stakes, survived some bumping on the turn before getting to the lead, then won a stretch duel with early pace-setter Bound to Be M V P by 1/2 length. Came to Pass finished third but set down to fifth for causing the traffic problems on the turn, promoting Eagle Storm to show money. Northern Soldier, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Yankee Victor, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:02.51 under Glenn Corbett.